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    Dated : Saturday, February 02, 2013

For a gender just world, be the change

According to the United Nations, out of every three women, one experiences violence. This means over one billion women and girls face violence in their daily lives. All times are war times for women. It is this all–pervasive violence that has ensured that equality for women remains confined to the Constitution – just pious, politically correct words

Kamla Bhasin

For years women activists and organisations had waged a lonely battle as they came out on to the streets in protest whenever rapes and molestations took place. The horrific gang rape of December 16, 2012, on a Delhi bus, proved to be a watershed. Finally, it was recognized that crimes of this kind were everyone’s issue, everyone’s concern. For someone like me, who has been part of such protests for decades, it was heartening to see people from across the spectrum break their silence and shed their apathy towards the biggest and most pervasive war in the world – violence against women and girls.

According to the United Nations, out of every three women, one experiences violence. This means over one billion women and girls face violence in their daily lives. All times are war times for women. It is this all–pervasive violence that has ensured that equality for women remains confined to the Constitution – just pious, politically correct words. Equality, dignity and respect for women do not mark the public sphere; neither do they inform family relationships.

While the teeming crowds at the recent protests made a glorious sight, the main slogans and demands raised seemed very limited and also very violent, especially during the initial days of the protest. The anger was towards others, towards the outside. “They” need to do something. Of course, “they” – whether they are politicians, police personnel or legal luminaries – need to do something, but what about us? What about the mindset that leads to violence, which considers women as bodies, commodities, targets?

Changing this mindset requires no less than a cultural tsunami. Before we stop violence against women, we would first need to demolish innumerable religious, cultural, and linguistic practices that we consider normal. For example, words like pati and swami for the man a woman marries, need to go. They all mean ‘master’/‘owner’. In free India, an adult woman cannot or should not have an owner. There are thousands of words, expressions, idioms, slang, that demean and insult women and which need to be purged from our consciousness.

Then take religious and cultural practices related to marriage. Take kanya–daan. In free India no kanya (daughter) can be given as daan (donation) Patriarchal saptapadi needs to go because of it venerates the man. The sindoor on a woman’s forehead screams out her status, her suhaag, but what about the suhaag of the man, what about his patni–vrata (duties towards the wife)? The newly–wed woman who touches the feet of her spouse reinforces the same mindset. The giving of dowry, the behaviour of the bridegroom’s party, the treatment of the bride’s family, they are all patriarchal. They privilege the man and demean the woman; mark her out as inferior, as a burden.

We also need to reflect at the reality (not just the laws) of inheritance. Until some years ago, women owned 1 per cent of the property in the world! Economic disempowerment of women is a major factor for the violence they suffer.

Then, let’s look at the media, especially television and films. We have enough insights and scholarship to indicate how much the media influence the way we think, dress, eat, consume, behave. If the power of persuasion was not there, would corporate bodies be spending billions on advertising in the media? Feminist research has produced volumes to show the patriarchal, anti–women, even misogynist nature of our media. Thirty years ago, some of us in Delhi set up a committee on the portrayal of women in the media to respond and challenge the most harmful aspects of its coverage. We would review films, serials, children’s books, textbooks and write about the patriarchal biases that marked all of them. We protested in front of cinema halls, wrote to Doordarshan, to corporate houses about their anti–women advertisements, to educational authorities, and we were able to make a difference. In that not so free and liberal world of the early 1980s, we were able to influence things. Given today’s globalized media it has become much more difficult to do this. The free market paradigm has made us “free” of decency, responsibility, ethics, and morality.

The media, as well as stars from Bollywood, who have comes out to show their concern after the recent gang rape, also need to ask themselves whether they are part of the problem; whether they too are not responsible for the commodification of women, on the one hand, and for making boys and men violent, on the other.

Bollywood stars promote alcoholism, deception and immorality by participating in ads for alcohol masquerading as soda water. Today, stars like Saif Ali Khan and Salman Khan advertise for liquor companies but the first such immoral ad I saw was done by Shatrughan Sinha many years ago. Alcohol and masculinity both lead to violence.

Film stars Akshay Kumar and Ranbir Kapoor have expressed their pain over the recent gang rape. They should now review some of the ads they have done and realize the links these ads have with aggressive masculinity; with violence in general and violence against women in particular.

Take two recent ads that Kapoor did for Pepsi Cola and IPL, both of which glorify indecency. In one of them, he with another man order a woman (either a friend or sister) to go and buy a Pepsi for them. In the second ad, he walks into a hospital room where a friend (or relation), is lying encased in a plaster. He just picks up the man, shoves him in to a chair, occupies the bed, and watches IPL while enjoying his Pepsi. At the end of both these ads, Kapoor declares, “IPL na tameez se khela jaata hai, na tameez se dekha jaata hai (IPL is neither played decently nor watched decently)”. If this is not a total glorification of masculine badtameezi or indecency, what is?

IPL’s mixture of sport, Bollywood and semi–nude cheerleaders has also encouraged indecency and aggression. Just consider the aggressive names given to IPL teams: Delhi Daredevils; Pune Warriors; Kochi Tuskers; Kolkata Knight Riders! As for the other teams, they are all Royals and Kings in democratic India. Is IPL all about the secret desires of reestablishing a feudalistic, masculinist world, with rich boys having ‘fun’ at the expense of ‘nautch girls’?

Cricket icons like Virat Kohli take the formula a step forward. He has two ways to “fool girls” in an ad for a phone: ‘Ladki pataane ke do tareeqe’. Virat is truly ‘virat’, or grand! He now possesses a phone to fool women. Truly the owners and managers of our media may not be part of any khap panchayat, but they seem to have the same mindset!

Look also at the violence, intolerance and indecency that mark Parliament debates. They have become slanging matches without anyone listening to anyone else. They could even pass off for our television talk shows conducted by award–winning anchors. One of the talk shows is actually called The Big Fight. The idea for this and other shows seem to be to just throw an opinion – like a bone – into the ring and get all the esteemed panelists snapping at it! How can anyone emerge any the wiser amidst this shouting and name–calling?

If we want to stop violence, establish the rule of law, create homes and societies where girls and women are accepted, respected, given dignity and freedom, then all of us have to begin with ‘ourselves’. As feminists have been saying for decades, the ‘personal is political’. We are all part of the problem and all of us can and should be part of the solution.

Without this ‘inner’ change, nothing will change. If we want true equality between men and women, then we need nothing less than a cultural revolution.

(Women’s Feature Service)


Friendship Compatibility

Ever wondered why one bonds with a person but doesn‘t like to see another? What makes someone find comfort in the company of a specific person? Why everyone has different sets of friends? Here are the Astro answers to such questions. Every person of any zodiac sign is compatible to selected zodiac signs. For e.g. a Gemini can bond strongly with a Sagittarius than a Scorpion. All zodiac signs have their own traits that make all of them distinct. Let‘s read the compatibility report of all twelve zodiac signs below. ...

Aries:The first sign in the zodiac, Aries is a Fire element that provides natural leadership qualities to those belonging to Aries. They are short–tempered and easily get offended. Thus, it leaves a strong impact in their friendships. Though they are supportive and always eager to help their friends personally or professionally, but they don‘t like those with a boring attitude. Sometimes they can make wrong and selfish decisions while choosing between people and possessions.An Aries shares good compatibility with Gemini, Aquarius, Leo, and Sagittarius.

Taurus: The second sign in the zodiac, Taurus is an Earth element and they are known for their organizing skills. A Taurean will never make a difference between a friend and family. Taureanstreat everyone equally. They understand others‘ problems and provide excellent advice. They are trustworthy and will be there anyone, any time, even at 4 in the morning. But at the same time, they are really possessive about their relationships.A Taurean shares good compatibility with Pisces, Cancer, Virgo, and Capricorn.

Gemini: Gemini is the third sign in the zodiac and it belongs to the Air element. Geminisare praised for their communications skills and friendly nature. They make numerous friends. They are good listeners too, making them popular among friends. They gel with people of distinct mindsets. One has to be intellectually connected to a Gemini for a healthy friendship. Geminis maintain their friendships forever.A Gemini shares good compatibility with Aries, Leo, Libra and Aquarius.

Cancer: The fourth sign of the zodiac, Cancer is a water element. Cancerians have secretive, strategist and reflective tendencies. Like Aries, they are supportive but they do not make friends easily. They need time to take their friendship to the next level. They remain loyal if their trust is not broken. They also love to involve themselves in solving others‘ problems.A Cancerian is more compatible withTaurus, Virgo, Scorpio and Pisces.

Leo: Leo, the aggressive sign is the fifth sign in the zodiac. It belongs to the Fire element. They are known for their dynamic and idealist natures. They possess good organizing skills and manage things very well in any circumstances. Leos are not easy to make friends, though they love to be surrounded by friends. They are too sensitive and may get offended easily. They chose their friends carefully. They prefer to be on top even among friends.A Leo is more compatible with Gemini, Libra, Aries and Sagittarius.

Virgo: The Sixth sign of the zodiac Virgo is an Earth element. Like Cancerians, Virgos are secretive, mysterious and possess strategist qualities. They are also termed as ‘communicators‘. Virgos are not that confident and shy in nature. They find it difficult to befriend with the people. If they make any friend, they may not consider make more of them. Virgos give good advice and are trustworthy friends. In crucial circumstances, they are very helpful.A Virgo shares good compatibility with Cancer, Scorpio, Taurus and Capricorn.

Libra: Libra is the seventh sign of the zodiac and belongs to the Air element. Their personality represents aggression and idealism. Leadership is one of the best attributes in Librans. They are like a magnet to the people and very active in the society. They are pro in counseling others as they can easily figure out the pros and cons of any problem in any situation. They don‘t like to be alone and love to be surrounded by friends. One can easily find a Libran in social gatherings, parties and functions as they are party animals. A Libran shares good compatibility with Leo, Sagittarius, Gemini and Aquarius.

Scorpio: The eighth sign of the zodiac, Scorpio belongs to the Water element. Scorpions are also secretive in nature. As an advantage, they have good management skills. They make a few close friends. Others praise them for their wisdom. One should be careful while befriending a Scorpion. Do not cross the lines and offend them as a Scorpion can become the worst enemy. They maintain the friendship for a longer period if that care and respect is reciprocal.A Scorpion is more compatible with Virgo, Capricorn, Cancer and Pisces.

Sagittarius: Sagittarius is the ninth sign in the zodiac and is a Fire element. They are excellent communicators and are good friends. They are open minded friends and comfortablein enjoying the adventure in life. They like to schedule the future to enjoy hassle free time. They make friends easily from all over the world. Sagittarians are cooperative and charming in their manners. They prefer adventurous people while looking for friendship.A Sagittarian shares good compatibility with Libra, Aquarius, Aries and Leo.

Capricorn: The tenth sign of the zodiac Capricorn is an Earth element. They have profound leadership quality but are secretive and reflective. Capricorns make loyal and caring friends. They prefer a stable and long–term friendship. They are more caring and behave more like parents. With an honest and pure intention of helping a friend they may try to impress their friend with their knowledge and problem solving advice. A Capricorn shares good compatibility with Scorpio, Pisces, Taurus and Virgo.

Aquarius: Aquarius is the eleventh sign of the zodiac and belongs to the Air element. They make many friends and thus it becomes difficult to keep a track of all of them. In this process, they do not develop close friendship with anyone. They are free souls and do not like anyone to make decisions or even suggestions for their lives. If they find an intellectual connect with someone, they will remain friends forever!An Aquarian shares good compatibility with Sagittarius, Aries, Gemini and Libra.

Pisces: The twelfth and last sign of the zodiac Pisces belongs to the Water element. Their creative minds and excellent communication skills helps them. They are secretive in nature like other Water signs.Pisceans are generous and anyone in any kind of suffering attracts them. They are sympathetic listeners and careful analyzers. They are most caring and trustworthy friends. Whenever in need, one can always find a Piscean by their side.A Piscean shares good compatibility with Capricorn, Taurus, Cancer and Scorpio. (Agencies)


Targeted sterlizations violate women’s reproductive rights

When Saroj opted for sterilization because she didn’t want to have any more children, she wasn’t taken for any pre–operative test at the government–run Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar Hospital in Rohini, Delhi. Neither was the 30–year–old, mother–of–three told about the procedure she was about to undergo. After her husband signed a form, she was given an injection and she lost consciousness.

Hours later, when she woke up, Saroj was nauseous and in pain. But when she found herself lying atop a couple of women on a mat on the floor, she was shocked. Afraid that she would die if she lay there any longer, Saroj left the hospital without medicines, instructions or the papers of her sterilization. Too terrified to go back to the hospital, Saroj even had her stitches removed later at home.

Saroj was lucky to survive. Many others have not been so fortunate. About 2,700 cases of failure, complication or death due to sterilization were officially recorded in 2012. According to Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, while Rajasthan recorded the highest number of failures in sterilisation cases at 772, Tamil Nadu accounted for the maximum number of deaths at 10, followed by Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh at eight deaths each, Bihar, Karnataka and Rajasthan at four deaths each and Assam, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh at two deaths each.

Whether it is Delhi or Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan or Assam, the stories are disturbingly similar. India has traditionally depended on female sterilisation as the key method for family planning to stabilize its population. With State governments invariably following a ‘target approach’ instead of a ‘target free’ approach, as mandated by the National Population Policy (2000), sterilising women is seen as the best way to meet these targets.

In Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh, the Chief Medical Officer has openly asked health officials to hold sterilization camps to meet their targets. A letter issued in October 2012 stated that the target for sterilizations for the district was 23,085 for the period beginning April to November 2012. It further said that the target to be met by for the month of November was 507 sterilizations and listed the number of camps to be held in order to achieve the target.

According to Ministry of Health and Family Welfare statistics, a whopping 46 lakh tubectomies were performed between 2011 and 2012 – 95.4 per cent of the sterilizations performed in that year. Male sterilizations numbered only 1.79 lakh. Leading the country in recording the highest number of sterilsations was MP with 5.96 lakh operations, followed by Andhra (5.41 lakh) and Maharashtra (5.12 lakh).

According to the Coalition Against Two–Child Norm and Coercive Population Policies, a group of likeminded organisations working for gender empowerment, 40 per cent of the 225 million women sterilised worldwide live in India. More than half the women who get sterilised have had the operation before they reach 26 years of age. “It is the largely uneducated and poor women who have limited information regarding contraception and inadequate access to family planning services who are brought for sterilization. So for them to give an informed consent to it is out of the question,” says Devika Biswas, a health rights activist, Healthwatch Forum, Bihar.

Biswas contends that robbing women of their right to decide the number and spacing of their children is against the spirit of the National Population Policy, “A resurgence of coercive population measures being followed in the states to discourage fertility by offering social and economic incentives like money, cars, TVs, refrigerators and cooking stoves has had a devastating impact on women.”

Biswas should know. She filed a public interest litigation case in the Supreme Court in April last year outlining the horror stories of a sterilisation camp held for women in a government school building in Araria district, Bihar, in January 2012. While conducting a fact finding mission, she found that on the night of January 7, 2012, in the space of two hours, 53 women were sterilized in the camp held in Kaparfora Government Middle School. All of the women belonged to the marginalised groups, including Dalit, Scheduled Castes and Other Backward Classes.

A single surgeon did the sterilizations with the help of few non–medical staff of a local NGO. The operations were performed with the help of one lamp and a few torches. While he was operating, the doctor did not wash his hands, change gloves, or wear a surgical gown and cap – all violations of government guidelines and basic human rights. The school desks doubled up as operating tables and after each surgery, the untrained NGO workers laid the women on straw strewn on the ground. The women did not receive medical assistance or post–operative care. As a consequence of the hasty, unhygienic and unprofessionally conducted sterilisations, three women were left bleeding profusely and one was admitted to a private hospital for eight days to recover from the after–effects of the procedure.

“This inhumane and degrading treatment of women devalues them and denies their reproductive rights. These women place their trust in medical professionals who mislead them, take advantage of their ignorance, and ultimately place their lives in jeopardy in order to meet a state mandated sterilisation target,” says Kerry McBroom reproductive rights initiative, Human Right Law Network .

McBroom who investigated the issue in some government hospitals in Delhi found the fate of women being sterilised in the capital no better. “Saroj’s story is not unique. Many women share similar harrowing experiences where women are operated under unhygienic circumstances and sterilised in only a matter of minutes. They are left to regain consciousness while lying on the floor of a dirty room without any medical attention. Finally, they are forced to leave the medical facility because hospital staff complain of overcrowding,” adds McBroom.

Clearly, vital issues of safety, quality and hygiene are being overlooked by medical officials in their zeal to sterilise as many women as possible. As for the Supreme Court’s directions for adherence to government guidelines for all sterilisations, they might as well not exist.   

Activists believe that this is why two tribal women died after undergoing ligation at Kelejora Block Primary Health Centre in Asansol, Assam, in December 2012. “Even when we were documenting sterilization camps in UP several years ago, we found that anaesthesia was given to women at a particular time, and then they would wait for the surgeon to arrive. If the surgeon got late, the anaesthesia would wear off. So the tubectomy was actually done without anaesthesia,” reveals Jashodhara Dasgupta, Coordinator, Sahayog, a Lucknow–based NGO, promoting women’s health from a human rights framework. Little wonder then that the number of cases that went wrong (including deaths, failures or those that resulted in additional complications) has been on the rise, increasing from 7,751 cases to 9,188 cases (nearly 19 per cent) between 2010 and 2011.

In 2012, botched sterilizations claimed 56 lives and 2,609 cases of unsuccessful sterilisation were recorded. In a statement to the Lok Sabha, Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad acknowledged the fact that the ministry had paid Rs 5.13 crore as compensation for 1,604 botched cases. A sum of Rs 2 lakh is paid for death following sterilisation in the hospital or within seven days of discharge, Rs 50,000 for death following sterilization within eight to 30 days of discharge, Rs 30,000 for failed sterilisation and Rs 25,000 for any complication within 60 days of discharge.

But is this all that a woman’s life is worth? Will it require a public outcry akin to the one generated after the brutal gang rape of a 23–year–old girl in Delhi to catalyse action? Until then will women continue being ‘targeted’ for sterilization?

(Women’s Feature Service)

Swapna Majumdar


Bank automatically moves husband’s money to wife’s account

Executives at China Merchants Bank created a genius programme that automatically transfers the husband’s earnings to the wife’s account. Every time the guy’s account balance reads more than US$160, the extra cash automatically moves into the woman’s account

Not only will their system enable couples to save up for a house, the bank said, but it should be good for relationships between men and women.

There was a huge outcry over this idea, including 170,000 complaints on Weibo, China’s copy of Twitter. The bank will probably have to withdraw it.

Shame, because it’s actually a brilliant idea. They should have replaced “husband” and “wife” with other terms, for example, “the sensible spouse” and “the other one”.

The idea certainly makes sense to older folk in many parts of Asia, including India and Sri Lanka. Traditionally in this region, it is women who are in charge of family finances. Men are allowed to retain a small amount of their earnings to buy beer, arrack, beer, newspapers, beer, cigarettes, and did I mention beer?


Photographers from Kompas magazine snapped politicians puffing at cigarettes under a no smoking sign at the Makassar Parliament Office in Indonesia last week. This is typical Asian leader philosophy: WE make laws. YOU obey them.


Bosses at McDonalds in Japan sent a stern memo to all staff banning them from discussing their work with outsiders, but they did offer one “recommended remark” that staff were allowed to use: “This chicken tatsuta is delicious!”

Staff decided to express their dismay by obeying the command all too enthusiastically. Chat–rooms and the Twittersphere in Japan are now full of that phrase.

It’s only a matter of time before someone tries to rob a McDonald’s in Japan and this happens. ROBBER: Hand over the money. STAFF: The chicken tatsuta is delicious! ROBBER: This gun is loaded! STAFF: The chicken tatsuta is delicious! ROBBER: What’s the code or password for the safe? STAFF: The chicken tatsuta is delicious! [Robber runs away screaming.]


A wacko guy who stands up and flaps his arms while driving his motorbike at speed around Dhaka, Bangladesh, has become a YouTube star. The world has gone crazy. In the past, when people in South Asia acted utterly deranged, we didn’t make them stars. We dubbed them sadhus (prophets) and worshiped them. Wait. Maybe it’s the same thing.


A designer has created drone–proof clothes. The garment hides the “heat signature” that drones (remote–controlled fighter–bombers) use to locate targets, according to a feature on Adam Harvey in Rhizome magazine. I can’t see a big market for this. Are fugitive Taliban terrorists from the mountains north of Pakistan really going to trek to New York fashion houses to buy these? And the trendy young people in New York who normally buy designer clothes–who’s going to send heat–seeking missiles after them? Unless they book a table at Torrisi and fail to show, in which case the maitre d’ might.


A health group in the US last week criticised a restaurant called The Cheesecake Factory for serving 3,000–calorie meals. This is like going to a sauna and complaining that it’s hot. Of course it’s hot. It’s a sauna.


The cheating husband app is coming. But for now, you can only get phones with that function in secondhand stores in Japan. I heard this from a gentleman whom I shall call Phil Anderer (not his real name) who is on his third wife but still has mistresses, due to a tragic medical condition (shriveled conscience).

“There are 200,000 apps in the world but NOT ONE can do what a 2002 Fujitsu flip–phone can do,” he enthused. Cheaters (who prefer to refer to themselves as “players”) do NOT need a high level of security. They need a high level of sneakiness. So he sneers at Smartphone apps which offer password–protected files for secrets. That’s stupid, Phil says. “It’s like a 1000–watt beacon saying: There are things I’m not telling you.”

In contrast, when a Fujitsu flip–phone owner gets a call, text or email from anyone on his list of mistresses, no record appears on the recent calls list, nor on the missed calls list, nor in the contacts list. His wife can spend as much time as she likes scrolling through his phone. She finds nothing.

That’s because the indicators are very subtle, such as a small change in the shape of the battery or antenna icon.

App developers are expected to copy the sneaky Fujitsu system for modern smart–phones this year. But it may be too late for Phil, who is rapidly losing the ability to remember passwords, written or visual. He was looking a bit crushed the last time I saw him. He said: “These says, when I give my 1,000 megawatt smile to young women, they assume I must be one of their fathers’ friends.”

(The Funny Side) Nury Vittachi

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A risk-free life is far from being a healthy life.
— Deepak Chopra
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